Washington, D.C. – Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today sent letters to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE) and a former EPA employee demanding documents related to the use of private email and text messages to avoid federal transparency requirements.
The committee obtained emails showing that a former EPA employee, Michael Goo, communicated with third party groups through private e-mail and text messages. Today’s letters follow a subpoena issued by the Committee in March for all documents related to EPA’s use of electronic communication practices after nearly 6,000 text messages were deleted from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s work-issued phone.
The EPA produced a number of documents in response to the subpoena, but failed to provide emails referencing text messages sent or received by Mr. Goo. In one e-mail obtained by the Science Committee that was sent from Mr. Goo’s personal e-mail account to a lobbyist, he writes “ok I will call number on text message.” Despite the Committee’s specific request for this information, the EPA failed to provide this e-mail.
Another email obtained by the Science Committee was sent from the Sierra Club to Mr. Goo’s private e-mail account:
“[a]ttached is a memo I didn’t want to send in public.”
“Mr. Goo was complicit in the lack of transparency by complying with the Sierra Club’s request because he failed to disclose the e-mail for two years,” Chairman Smith wrote in his letter. “Mr. Goo’s actions are troubling because it creates the appearance of secrecy. For two years, his communications with the Sierra Club and other outside groups were hidden from Congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests—potentially violating the Federal Records Act.”
In 2013, Mr. Goo left the EPA for a similar positon at DOE. Based on Mr. Goo’s history at EPA of communicating with third party groups using non-official e-mail to conduct agency work, the Committee is concerned he used similar means of communications at DOE. Previous Congressional investigations found that DOE officials routinely used non-official email to conduct agency work, at times with the explicit intent of concealing that work from public scrutiny or Congressional oversight. For example, on August 21, 2011, former DOE Loan Program Office Director Jonathan Silver used his Yahoo! e-mail account to send a message to another official within DOE’s Loan Program Office stating:
“Don’t ever send an email on doe email with private email addresses. That makes them subpoenable.”
It is the law for federal records to be retained for a number of reasons, including institutional memory, ensuring effective and efficient administration of an organization, and to “make possible a proper scrutiny by the Congress…” Agencies are required to preserve records that document how decisions are made.
News reports have further highlighted Mr. Goo’s efforts to skirt transparency by arranging meetings “at the Starbucks in the JW Marriott hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, close to the EPA,” in an effort to prevent meeting participants from signing in at the EPA building and creating public records.
Chairman Smith’s letters demand all communications from 2011 to 2013 from senior EPA and DOE officials that reference outside groups, including the White House, Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The full letters can be found here.